JUST when we were all on the point of accepting that men really have outlived their usefulness and are superfluous to requirements, along comes a news story to give us pause for thought. Three British men have been hailed as heroes in Australia for tackling and pinning down a man who had stabbed a woman. Or to give the individual his proper descriptor, ‘someone with a history of psychiatric problems’.
Brothers Paul and Luke O’Shaughnessy and Lee Cuthbert, all from Greater Manchester, were at work in a Sydney office when they heard a commotion and screaming. They immediately rushed out into a potentially life-threatening situation. The men’s taking down of the attacker in that crowded city street demonstrated not just altruism and bravery, but quick-thinking resourcefulness too in their use of a chair and a crate. Of course, their powerful physical build didn’t come amiss either. Nor the fact that one was an expert in Thai kick boxing.
It’s pretty much an article of faith in these dangerously and foolishly feminised times that the word ‘masculinity’ needs prefixing with the adjective ‘toxic’. Toxic masculinity is everywhere we look. It’s a wonder we women dare leave the house each morning. In the UK the suicide rate among men is several times that of women (there’s a gender gap for you). Some might ask whether one of the reasons young men are feeling that they and their lives are pointless is that they are increasingly forced to see themselves in such a negative light. Boys are now to be brought up in these woke times as creatures that need neutering and relieved of anything that might once have been thought of as boyish or masculine. Because it’s poisonous. It’s not how we want them to behave. We want them to be more like girls.
Well, you know what? There are still some of us who are downright grateful that there are still fellas out there like the three in Sydney. They’re the kind of men you need in a crisis. Some of us are appreciative beyond words that there are still at large a few blokes (having grown up, one supposes, in those less gender-fluid, bad old gender binary times) who have the required testosterone to do something to save lives: take direct physical action to disarm and restrain. That’s what these men did. With no thought for their own safety, they raced straight in to protect strangers from a knife-wielder. Naturally, they don’t see themselves as heroes, but just as men who only did what a lot of men would do. And they are probably right. At least for the time being.
It would be pretty incendiary now to use the phrase ‘real men’, but I’ll use it all the same. If only for all the eye-rolling it will provoke. We know what we mean by it, however. It’s not about implying that men who cannot (and should not) try to act in this courageous way, are somehow less ‘real’, less ‘men’. It’s just about trying to pay tribute to the kind of qualities that are a non-toxic by-product of the nasty old masculinity that so needs engineering out of half of humanity.
Who knows whether news of acts of bravery like this will become a thing of the past? If, down the years, men have increasingly to take the line (see the comedy routine Jo Brand has been flogging for years) that they are just a waste of space, then perhaps they’ll believe it. Perhaps they will no longer have the confidence in their (generally speaking) greater speed and superior physical strength. Or maybe they’ll just want to stay below the radar, where they’ve been put by the likes of Caroline Lucas’s proposed all-women Cabinet, because why bother? Why put yourself on the line when you’re superfluous to requirements? Yes, men may just as well go their own way.
We’re already in a place where every time the BBC wants a comment about the construction industry, the motor trade, engineering, finance, business, economics, it has to be a woman in a hard hat or a suit who is interviewed. You can’t get a male astrophysicist now for love nor money. A friend recently made a similar observation about the frantic and transparent overdrive about female onscreen presence and representation in certain occupations. ‘Oh yes, always a lady farmer nowadays,’ he said.
We’d better hope that nature will out itself somehow. We’d better hope that for the current generation of boys growing up, boys whose masculine traits are deemed as needing to be curbed and suppressed, their testosterone will still be on hand when they are men in a crisis. They’ll assess a situation (even for a split second) and act alongside other men who also have confidence in their pace and strength. Confidence, in short, in their masculinity. Toxic? You bet. As the suspect found when the Manchester boys had him pinned down on the road with a crate and a chair on his head. None of us wants anyone, male or female, young or old, to be in danger, to put themselves in harm’s way. But when someone does do so in a frightening situation, it’s OK to acknowledge that the bravery was a man’s, as it usually will be. And it needs to be OK that his maleness is at the heart of enabling it. Hormones, you see. That’s what they do.